1. Just bought this ebook in our family Amazon account — so go login and download. 

    It’s getting lots of attention.

    Brad DeLong posted a compilation of reviews of it on his blog — which Cassidy provides the link to (click here) in the blog post where he reproduces six important charts from Piketty’s book (click here).

    See Krugman blog post here ….

     
  2. Gabe Newell: Reflections of a Video Game Maker (by TheLBJSchool)

    One of the founders of that radical company, Valve, talks on a range of issues.

    Points that stuck in my head:

    • Vale is about connecting users to value.
    • He hates the word “talent” when it comes to employees - what you want to talk about is the ability to be productive. (Which makes think about the educational sphere… where we should be judged on producing “learning”) - He comments on the problem of how to hire and retain “productive” employees… Be aggressive re firing.
    • Re flat structure: how titles and hierarchy hinder productivity.  Management is a skill, not a career path. At Valve, everyone does a mix of individual and group contribution.  Management roles are about working hard to keep other people productive — so people do it in turns, never on back-to-back projects. He joked how you need to find a younger sucker to do it.
    • No QA dept at Valve, just as no marketing department.
    • Hiring is really just social networking
    • Quantitative predictions are very important.
    • Steam as a curated store. User-generated content is way more productive.
    • Reddit is so good at detecting bullshit.
    • Corporations are pre-internet ways of organizing production and allocating capital.  The internet now does it better.

    (thx Sam for giving me the link to this)

     
  3. Plane Companions Worth Reading

    Long flights aren’t usually very enjoyable, but I had two in my holiday travels that were fascinating.  

    I had stumbled across a blog - The Ribbon Farm - before leaving, and the author, Venkatesh Rao, very kindly provides an easy way (via readlists.com which I”m now using) to download sets of his blog posts to epub format - see his For New Readers.  

    So I just loaded up my iBooks with his work.  Perfect.  It was like sitting down for a long-haul journey and finding your companion full of theories — totally fun, especially when the theories involve economics, technology, the future, and the sociology of entrepreneurship.  His theories ring true for me, based on the experience of DHA in Vietnam and my Boston/London days in unsuccessful start-ups.

    You might start with The Gervais Principle (which uses The Office to illustrate a pet theory of his).

    image

    NB: He’s also a blogger for Forbes and just published an end-of-year “best of” list of his blog posts.  Do catch these articles:

    Then on another leg I chose Tim Kreider’s book of essays as my companion.  Again, wonderfully opinionated —  and often funny, even if sometimes in a cringing way (not quite The Peep Show level, but close).

    See “In Praise of Not Knowing" - which ends with this thought:

    I hope kids are still finding some way, despite Google and Wikipedia, of not knowing things. Learning how to transform mere ignorance into mystery, simple not knowing into wonder, is a useful skill. Because it turns out that the most important things in this life — why the universe is here instead of not, what happens to us when we die, how the people we love really feel about us — are things we’re never going to know.

    image

     
  4. A familiar set of characters to us…. Phuket, BVI, and companies that help set up offshore companies (cf. your gap year work, Sam).

    Read and reflect.

     
  5. A long, fascinating article — but the company it’s discussing — Valve — is more fascinating.

    I would start with the Handbook for New Employees (PDF), which outlines the “fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s telling you want to do.”

    Yes, Valve functions with no management structure at all.  Totally flat.  

    You have to figure out what to do on your own.

    All desks are on wheels so you can easily choose where you work and what you’re working on.

    The assessment bit is also quite revolutionary — Peer Reviews and Stack Ranking.

    Every year a set of people (they change each time) goes around interviewing everyone in the company about each other.  The information gathered, fed back to you anonymously, is meant to help you grow.

    Everyone is also interviewed about people they’ve worked with in order to determine their stack ranking — which determines compensation.

    There are 4 metrics:

    • Skill level/technical ability
    • Productivity/output
    • Group contribution
    • Product contribution

    This is done to determine who’s providing the most value to the company.

    There’s no formalized professional development provided for employees.  It’s assumed that high-performance people are self-improving.  The advice given is: 

    • Put more tools in your toolbox
    • Engineers: code is only the beginning
    • Non-engineers: program or be programmed

    Hiring is the most important task of every employee.

    Anyway, this is a long description.  Go read the thing yourself.

    [Hat tip to Sam for putting me onto this company and these articles.]

     
  6. (via What’s In A Bottle Of 5-Hour Energy? - Forbes)
Thanks, Maggie, for the link to this Forbes article about the man making millions from this energy drink (caffeine & B vitamins, basically).

    (via What’s In A Bottle Of 5-Hour Energy? - Forbes)

    Thanks, Maggie, for the link to this Forbes article about the man making millions from this energy drink (caffeine & B vitamins, basically).

    System
     
  7. These two forms of inequality exist in modern America. They are related but different. Over the past few months, attention has shifted almost exclusively to Blue Inequality. That’s because the protesters and media people who cover them tend to live in or near the big cities, where the top 1 percent is so evident. That’s because the liberal arts majors like to express their disdain for the shallow business and finance majors who make all the money. That’s because it is easier to talk about the inequality of stock options than it is to talk about inequalities of family structure, child rearing patterns and educational attainment. That’s because many people are wedded to the notion that our problems are caused by an oppressive privileged class that perpetually keeps its boot stomped on the neck of the common man. But the fact is that Red Inequality is much more important. The zooming wealth of the top 1 percent is a problem, but it’s not nearly as big a problem as the tens of millions of Americans who have dropped out of high school or college. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the 40 percent of children who are born out of wedlock. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the nation’s stagnant human capital, its stagnant social mobility and the disorganized social fabric for the bottom 50 percent. If your ultimate goal is to reduce inequality, then you should be furious at the doctors, bankers and C.E.O.’s. If your goal is to expand opportunity, then you have a much bigger and different agenda.
    — 

    The Wrong Inequality - NYTimes.com

    Thanks, Sam, for pointing me to this David Brooks column.

     
  8. The sociologist Max Weber, in his 1919 essay “Politics as a Vocation,” drew a distinction between “the ethic of responsibility” and “the ethic of ultimate ends”—between those who act from a sense of practical consequence and those who act from higher conviction, regardless of consequences. These ethics are tragically opposed, but the true calling of politics requires a union of the two. On its own, the ethic of responsibility can become a devotion to technically correct procedure, while the ethic of ultimate ends can become fanaticism. Weber’s terms perfectly capture the toxic dynamic between the President, who takes responsibility as an end in itself, and the Republicans in Congress, who are destructively consumed with their own dogma. Neither side can be said to possess what Weber calls a “leader’s personality.” Responsibility without conviction is weak, but it is sane. Conviction without responsibility, in the current incarnation of the Republican Party, is raving mad.


     
  9. David Brooks can always be counted on for pointing the way to great longer reads… and this column is a good example.

    I hope you had the chance to read and reread Dudley Clendinen’s splendid essay, “The Good Short Life,” in The Times’s Sunday Review section. Clendinen is dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S. 

    ——-

    As Daniel Callahan and Sherwin B. Nuland point out in an essay in The New Republic called “The Quagmire,” our health care spending and innovation are not leading us toward a limitless extension of a good life.

    ——————

    In the online version of this column let me provide links to three other essays, which offer other perspectives on why we should accept the finitude of life and the naturalness of death. They are: “Born Toward Dying,” by Richard John Neuhaus, “L’Chaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality?” by Leon Kass and “Thinking About Aging,” by Gilbert Meilaender.

    The Born Toward Dying essay by Richard John Neuhaus references a book Max first raved about - 

    It used to be said that the Victorians of the nineteenth century talked incessantly about death but were silent about sex, whereas today we talk incessantly about sex and are silent about death. In 1973, Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death contended that Freud had gotten it exactly backwards. It is not true, said Becker, that our fear of death is rooted in our denial of sex, but, rather, that our fear of sex is rooted in our denial of death.

    I suspect once I do finish reading it, it will go on the shelf next to my college-classic, Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History - by Norman O. Brown.


     
  10. Getting a guard’s job in the California prison system is harder (percentage-wise) than getting into Harvard… Who would have thought?

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Roughly 2,000 students have to decide by Sunday whether to accept a spot at Harvard. Here’s some advice: Forget Harvard. If you want to earn big bucks and retire young, you’re better off becoming a California prison guard.

    The job might not sound glamorous, but a brochure from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations boasts that it “has been called ‘the greatest entry-level job in California’—and for good reason. Our officers earn a great salary, and a retirement package you just can’t find in private industry. We even pay you to attend our academy.” That’s right—instead of paying more than $200,000 to attend Harvard, you could earn $3,050 a month at cadet academy. It gets better. Training only takes four months, and upon graduating you can look forward to a job with great health, dental and vision benefits and a starting base salary between $45,288 and $65,364. By comparison, Harvard grads can expect to earn $49,897 fresh out of college and $124,759 after 20 years.

    As a California prison guard, you can make six figures in overtime and bonuses alone.”

    prison guard tower by Rennett Stowe, on Flickr
    Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Rennett Stowe